There are many of us out there who regularly forego the opportunity to take a vacation because we cannot bear the thought of leaving our animal companions behind. We either do not own an automobile or the destination is too far to drive, a plane ticket is outside the scope of our budget or riding the train is a non-starter since Amtrak does not allow pets on their trains. Alternatively, there are also those among us that have animal companions on the smaller side that are quite familiar with what it is like to take them on vacation. Taking an animal companion of any size in an automobile is clearly not an issue and most airlines have policies in place that allow passengers to bring their animal companions in the cabin and accompany them on their journey.
H.R. 674, while being unable to provide individuals with an automobile to drive places with their animal companion, and also unable to help those of limited financial means fly places with their animal companion, does offer a possible solution that could open the door to more individuals having the means to travel with their animal companion. H.R. 674 otherwise known as the “Pets on Trains Act of 2015” has the potential if signed into law, “to require Amtrak to propose a pet policy that allows passengers to transport domesticated cats and dogs on certain Amtrak trains…” The original bill H.R. 2066 was introduced by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) back on May 21, 2013 but lost steam in Congress. The new bill, also introduced by Rep. Denham, currently has twenty-four lawmakers on board from both sides of the aisle. Rep. Denham currently serves as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, a subcommittee that has jurisdiction over Amtrak.
The Pets on Trains Act of 2015 (the “Act”) would require that Amtrak, within 90 days of enactment of this Act, propose a pet policy to transport dogs and cats. The Act would require Amtrak to designate one car of each passenger train (assuming the train is more than one car long) where a ticketed passenger could transport a dog or cat if:
- The cat or dog is contained in a pet kennel;
- The pet kennel can be stowed in accordance with Amtrak size requirements for carry-on luggage;
- The distance the passenger is ticketed for traveling is less than 750 miles; and
- The passenger pays a fee.
Similar provisions would need to be set forth in order to transport the cat or dog as cargo. The Act would be completely separate from any pre-existing obligations Amtrak has to accommodate service dogs. The Act also does not require Amtrak to add additional train cars or modify existing cars.
Rep. Denham has been working to change Amtrak’s policy ever since he was unable to take his 15-pound French bulldog Lily on a train a few years ago. Rep. Denham believes changing the policy has a number of important benefits including:
- Encouraging people to travel by train instead of on congested roads; and
- Bring revenue to a business that relies on taxpayer support for survival.
Amtrak has already begun test runs for pets on two routes in Illinois. In 2014, an estimated 145 passengers took advantage of the new service. Participation steadily increased as more passengers became aware of the change in policy. For the routes currently being tested out in Illinois, Amtrak is requiring passengers to make a reservation, pay a $25 surcharge, have the animal weigh 20 pounds or less, and check-in a minimum of 30 minutes before departure. Amtrak has retained the right to remove any pet from the train that smells bad or is disruptive. A spokesman for Amtrak said that “the experiment has gone well and the lack of any negative feedback from customers or crewmembers is heartening.”
Abigail Murray and Michael Rouvina are Michigan attorneys who focus their law practice on Animal Law and Animal Companion Mediation, as well as Family Law, Probate/Estate Planning, Business Law, and Alternative Dispute Resolution at the law firm of Murray & Rouvina, PLC in Kalamazoo, MI. You can find more information at www.zoocitylawyers.com.